The Metal Gear Diaries #11: Snake out of a Plane

The setup for these posts is simple: I've never played a Metal Gear Solid game before, and I want to change that. I'm going to be writing my on-going reactions to the games as I go, and sharing them with the world. The Metal Gear Diaries are somewhere between a full critical essay and twitter gut responses, and will form an honest document of my shock, frustration and surprise at the events of, say it with me now, "Metal Gear?!” They will be packed with spoilers for all Metal Gear games!

Last time, we beat Sons of Liberty, and out poured thousands of words of reaction which barely covered the salient points. Metal Gear is the most dense thing, at least when it wants to be. But now, it’s time to step away from Solid Snake, to take a trip back in time, and finally meet the man behind the legend: Big Boss. That’s right, we’re moving on to Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

Mission Briefing

Sons of Liberty’s ending was such that I can’t really imagine what a sequel to that game would even be, though I know I’m coming up on it soon! But for now, the various cliffhangers of that game are followed up with what at least seems to be a completely unrelated story. I’m sure it’ll end up being the key to every reveal in Guns of the Patriots, but going in, it’s definitely a strange choice, and I don’t quite know what to expect.

I like that the follow up to a game which consistently toyed with player expectation and entitlement is one that completely rejects being anything resembling a satisfying resolution. It stars completely different characters in a completely different time, because that’s the game that they wanted to make. It feels like the most honest way of continuing that story, and the ridiculous spirit of Metal Gear.

What I know about Snake Eater is way less than the other games. I know Big Boss is in it, I know it ends with a scene of he and the female lead bonin’, I know there’s a character called The Boss and I know there’s a sniper fight in some trees. Basically: it sounds like a bond movie, and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve been talking to Matt about Snake Eater a little, and he’s told me that 2 and 4 are these more cynical and post-modern games which are defined by the tension between them and their audience, but 3 is just the most earnest thing, and that’s why he loves it.

I hope that’s the case for me, because an earnest Bond Pastiche as a little break between 2 and 4 is exactly what I want. But we’ll see as we load up the game, and have the truth revealed for ourselves!

One more thing before we start: I ummed and ahhed for a long time about which difficulty to play Snake Eater on. It’s a game with multiple survival elements, and a key factor in the game is patience, far more than in the Metal Gear games that preceded it. I’ve heard stories of fifty minute boss fights sat waiting, scanning a sniper over the trees, ready to take that perfect shot. It’s both the most mechanically fascinating to me of the Metal Gear games, and the most time consuming if I choose to engage with that side of things, when I really want to see the story. After all, the Metal Gear Ray fight in Sons of Liberty took me at least half an hour and really distracted from the flow of that sequence.

But after considering, I think I’m going to play it on Normal. I’m curious enough as to the survival elements to want to see what it’s like to engage with them openly. And whilst I could beat the game and play it again, I’m writing these articles as I go, and I want my reactions to be down on the page for you all to read.

So that’s the plan. That’s the deal. It’s time to go. I’ve put starting Snake Eater off for a couple days, so I’m equal parts nervous and excited. It’s time to eat a Snake.

Let’s go!

Before You Hit The Ground

Metal Gear has had an interesting relationship with history. Twin Snakes uses the Gulf War as a cover story for its plot points about genome soldiers and genetic engineering. Sons of Liberty frames the entire Cold War as beneath The Patriots, as if all human concerns that we, the audience, are familiar with are just play theatre compared to the incomprehensible wars that these mythical figures are fighting out on our screens.

In that regard, Snake Eater is especially fascinating. It opens with a title card about the Cold War, and it’s set in 1964, far before the Metal Gear universe splintered from our own and became the sci-fi story that it is. This places it far more in the realm of Alternate History fiction, rather than something more speculative, and thus the relationship between “metal gear events” and “real historical events” becomes fraught. I wonder how Snake Eater will toe that line, ethically speaking, in the way that it incorporates fact into its fiction.

I don’t know if Sokolov is a real person, but I’m going to assume that he isn’t. His backstory, as given to you in briefings, is tragic, which is in line with how Metal Gear has treated the designers of its weapons in the past. Otacon and Emma, the two characters who designed Metal Gear and Arsenal Gear respectively, are good guys in the context of the story. As a series, it’s been clear that Metal Gear places the blame for the horrific use of nuclear weapons away from those who built the devices. It knows that the desire for technological progress comes from a far more selfless and inspirational place, and that desire is perverted and stolen by those that wage wars.

So I’m incredibly curious how Snake Eater is going to approach that as a game that can’t deal in outlandish weapons of mass destruction. Sure, Sokolov is developing something that is certainly going to be the first Metal Gear, but put so close to the very real nuclear arms race of the Cold War, I’m more than a little nervous that Metal Gear’s blunt storytelling will make things slightly uncomfortable, because a deft touch is required to make this stuff work.

But all that said, this is just my brain thinking “huh, I wonder what this game is going to be about,” I trust that I’m going to enjoy it! Snake Eater is the favourite Metal Gear game of a bunch of people I know, so I’m excited to see the way it toes these various lines, and what the game ends up being.

Cocktease

Added to that, it opens with no reference to The Patriots, with no hook to tie it into Sons of Liberty or a flash-forward that places it in context with the events we already know. It’s a deliberately distancing opening, very similar to the entrance to Big Shell, but a less pointed attack on the player. It’s far more playful.

The opening cutscene ends with the most in-your-face playful moment, when the HALO mask comes off, and the words JACK (DAVID HAYTER) come onto screen. You’re just fucking with me now, Kojima. Damn you.

I’ve seen enough of Big Boss to know he just looks like Snake, and I’m fairly sure Big Boss looked like Snake in the grainy flashback to your briefing with M. (I’m gonna call him M until his name is revealed, because come on). Seeing the body of Raiden whilst hearing the voice of David Hayter is going to be monumentally confusing, and I hope an explanation comes sooner rather than later, because I need to know!

It makes me wonder about the structure of Snake Eater – which I had assumed was just a single mission, like in Twin Snakes – are we going to get another moment like the end of the Tanker? Guns of the Patriots takes place over five distinct acts, this I know, so is Snake Eater a step in that direction, rather than a feint back to the more traditional style? Will I rescue Sokolov, the requisite Bond Theme begin to play, and fade to black before another related mission as a more traditionally designed Big Boss? Am I – Jack – going to grow into Big Boss, or am I a completely different person?

Now that I’ve written out those questions it’s clear to me this is going to be a Bond Cold Open, which is going to be amazing if they pull it off. Metal Gear has always had excellent Title Card moments, and I don’t expect it to stop now.

Additional Note: the cut to black DIRECTED BY HIDEO KOJIMA SCREEN? I laughed. Good job.

*

Well, so far all we’ve covered is the opening cutscene! Metal Gear games keep getting denser and denser. Who knows how many of these posts we’ll end up with when we’re done, at this rate I’ll have enough to fill a whole book.

Next: We’re going to, well, play the video game. Yeah. That sounds like a good idea, I’m ready to see how Snake Eater plays…